By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Simona Halep’s path to a second successive French Open title cleared up in spectacular fashion on Saturday after 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and world number one Naomi Osaka exited Roland Garros in the third round on Saturday.
Williams failed to recover from a woeful start against fellow American Sofia Kenin as the 20-year-old motored into the last 16 with a 6-2 7-5 win, putting the former world number one’s quest for a record-equaling 24th singles major on hold.
Williams, who suffered her earliest Grand Slam exit since Wimbledon 2014, was given a standing ovation as she walked off Court Philippe Chatrier while sections of the crowd jeered her conqueror.
The 37-year-old Williams, seeded 10th, paid the price for her lack of match practice as she was playing in only her fifth tournament of the year, and her fightback in the middle of the second set was short-lived.
Osaka, just like Williams, was a possible semi-final opponent for third seed Halep, who is looking to become the first woman to retain the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Justine Henin won a third consecutive title in 2007.
But the Japanese top seed, who had already been forced to go the distance in her first two rounds, was clueless in a 6-4 6-2 defeat to Czech Katerina Siniakova.
The loss snapped Osaka’s 16-match winning streak in Grand Slams after she won the 2018 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.
With Osaka gone, five of the top six seeds are now out of the women’s singles draw, leaving Halep as the sole survivor. The Romanian showed her best side in a 6-2 6-1 dismissal of Ukrainian 27th seed Lesia Tsurenko.
In the men’s draw, world number one Novak Djokovic strolled into the fourth round with a 6-3 6-3 6-2 victory against Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso.
Leading the charge of the young generation, Alexander Zverev continued to flirt with danger, the German fifth seed advancing with a 6-4 6-2 4-6 1-6 6-2 victory over Serbian Dusan Lajovic — his second five-setter of the tournament.
The 22-year-old, who has now won all five-set matches he has played at Roland Garros, next faces Monte Carlo Masters winner Fabio Fognini after the Italian ninth seed dismissed Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(5) 6-4 4-6 6-1.
Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and Austrian Dominic Thiem both progressed with four-set victories.
Last year’s runner-up Thiem will take on Gael Monfils, one of two Frenchmen left in the draw.
Tsitsipas will be up against a resurgent Stan Wawrinka after the 2015 champion downed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in three tiebreaks.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)